Horror in the heart of Europe: The jihadist threat in France

Article originally published at the European Student Think Tank website

Daniel Rubio Sánchez. What happened in Paris is the deadly and most miserable expression of the growing threat jihadist terrorism is becoming for France. The French République has been hit by a series of coordinated terrorist attacks that could be just the beginning of a war to be waged for decades. It will not be –or should not be– a war against Islam or the Middle East, it should be a tirelessly battle for human rights, peace and harmony. Our society is being attacked and Paris has been targeted as the symbol of the modern society that the terrorists want to knock down. It is time now for us Europeans to put the political and cultural differences aside and join forces again a common threat to our values and security. It is time now for Europe to stand up and act united.

France, a target for terrorists

France is the preferred target of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its partner organizations in the region. Since a French military intervention in 2013 ended the jihadi condominium remained in northern Mali for almost a year, there have been oaths of revenge against France, that in August 2014 spread to the entire Sahel its military mission against terrorism with Operation Barkhane (Ministére de la Défense, 2015). As the official propaganda mouthpiece Dabiq stated in July (Dabiq, 2015), “France is part of the nation crusader coalition against the Caliphate” and it is among the top five countries where “it is very important that attacks occur” (Dabiq, 2014).

France is targeted, but the rest of Europe –and of course the United States and its allies– is targeted too. The ISIS has been able to adapt the way terrorism draws attention from people by using new ways of spreading fear through propaganda. These new ways of communicating their actions and horrible crimes makes it more difficult for European governments to control information or terrorist recruitment. They have several magazine-like media outlets similar to the aforementioned Dabiq that serve as a recruitment tool especially for the youngest generations.

Internet, globalization and information availability across borders becomes a double-edged sword when it comes to terrorism. The easiness the Internet offers for people to find information about terrorist groups via forums or magazines is worrisome. The intensity of jihadist radicalization processes in France has reached unprecedented levels, especially among young people, descendants of Muslim immigrants, affected by an explosive combination of existential dissatisfaction, relative deprivation induced hatred and identity crisis. France has become, with no less than 1,550 in the country western producer of foreign jihadists to the Islamic State and the Nusra Front. The French government lead by the Prime Minister Manuel Valls tried to stop this in the beginning of 2015 with a plan to prevent Jihadist recruitment (Ziv, 2015) but apparently, attending to the terrible events that have taken place in France this year, plans have failed miserably.

Time for action

Some analysts believe Paris terror attacks will prompt a more aggressive US strategy on ISIS (Baker & Schmitt, 2015). It is not ruled out considering that the lack of US response has led Russia to take military leadership in Syria. Events are showing that the US strategy is not working at all and this makes it easier for Hawks influencing foreign policy in Washington to have their thesis reinforced and continue asking, in a more aggressive way if possible, that military troops enter in Syria once and for all.

Standing still was never a valid option for the US or European countries, but it is less of an option now when European people are starting to get scared and terrorists are achieving their solely goal: to terrorize people. Soft power time has ended and now it is impossible to avoid the use of the word war. Terrible as it sounds, Western countries do not seem to have taken the Syrian and Middle East problem seriously until the dead bodies have begun to reach our shores trying to escape from a horror that is already here. It is somewhat paradoxical that while the anti-immigration discourse is reinforced in Europe against those fleeing the horror they experience in their home countries that same horror is already inside ours too. It is now clearer than ever that the xenophobic discourse of Le Pen or Viktor Orbán has rather little to do with reality. Refugees are running away from the same terrorists now we have to fight against because they are here. It would have been desirable to prevent hundreds of thousands of people from having to leave their homes and their families. We could have done much more but we were absorbed by the debate on the deficit and Greece.

However, we can waste time by blaming ourselves for everything that we have done wrong or tracing a serious and collective plan among European countries and allies all around the world to face a global threat. It is time for action, but ISIS will not be defeated only by an action led by the US. It will have to be democracies against terror, not the West against the Middle East. Repeating Iraq would be a catastrophic mistake that Obama seems eager to avoid, but the fear to finish his term in office with US with soldiers, wars and casualties cannot –nor should– restrain the US president from acting if needed, as it is needed now. Nobody likes wars, but we all like to live quietly and it will not be possible unless we defeat those who want to terrorize us. There will be no place for the Europe we want to live in until we make it possible for Europeans to live normally and peacefully as they would expect.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other NATO Ministers of Defense and of Foreign Affairs met together at NATO headquarters to give final political guidance in preparation for the meeting of Allied Heads of State and Government at the upcoming NATO Summit in Lisbon, Portugal in November in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday October 14, 2010. DOD photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison(RELEASED)

The President of the French Republic has defined the attacks in Paris as an “act of war”, allowing NATO’s collective response principle if needed enshrined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty (North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 1949). It is doubtful that Hollande will invoke NATO’s founding treaty to respond to the attacks in Paris, but it is worth noting that the president’s words were carefully chosen in this first address to the nation to keep an ace up his sleeve if needed. “France will be merciless toward the ISIS barbarians”, he said, pointing out that his strategy will not be to step back against the terrorists.

If France wants to become the second invoking Article 5 after the US, the first step would be to call for an Article 4 consultation. This would convene the ambassadors of the 28 nations, who are always in permanent session in Brussels, to discuss the situation and decide a plan for actions. This already happened when Turkey requested an Article 4 meeting after the Islamic State attacks there in 2014.

It seems reasonable and likely that a meeting prompted by Article 4 would conclude that the Paris attacks should be considered an attack under Article 5. That would be entirely appropriate from my point of view. The terrorist attacks are anything but the culmination of a humanitarian disaster in Syria, which is, in part, our responsibility, that has destabilized the Middle East and initiated a flow of people willing to have a better future into Europe. NATO can no longer pretend the conflict does not affect its most basic interests. If it does, it will miss an opportunity to justify its own existence to an international community that is increasingly willing to leave military actions as the last possible option in situations like this and it will also miss an opportunity of building an “open coalition” against ISIS that should include the force of Russia. It is time for action.


Baker, P., & Schmitt, E. (2015, November 14). New York Times. Retrieved November 15, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/world/europe/paris-terror-attacks-response-islamic-state.html?_r=0

Dabiq. (2014, October). Retrieved November 15, 2015, from https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/the-islamic-state-e2809cdc481biq-magazine-422.pdf

Dabiq. (2015, July). Retrieved November 15, 2015, from https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/the-islamic-state-e2809cdc481biq-magazine-1022.pdf

Défense, M. d. (2015, November 3). Ministére de la Défense. Retrieved November 15, 2015, from http://www.defense.gouv.fr/operations/sahel/dossier-de-presentation-de-l-operation-barkhane/operation-barkhane

North Atlantic Treaty Organization. (1949, April 4). North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Retrieved November 15, 2015, from http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_110496.htm

Ziv, S. (2015, January 29). Newsweek. Retrieved November 15, 2015, from http://www.newsweek.com/france-launches-online-offensive-prevent-jihadist-recruitment-303079

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